skip to content

Masters in Conservation Leadership

Women in the UCCLAN

Celebrating the achievements of our alumni on International Women’s Day

The University of Cambridge Masters in Conservation Leadership alumni network (UCCLAN) comprises 220 individuals from 89 countries. The Masters programme equips its graduates with the tools needed to be the next generation of conservation leaders, and 60% of its incredible alumni network are women. The network has women leading in all areas of its collaborative efforts, including Chairing the UCCLAN Council, leading or co-leading in five of our six regional alumni groups, and most notably all six Sansom Conservation Leadership Alumni (SCLA) Fund recipients have women as Project Leads. Not only that, but women have also been at the forefront of the UCCLAN’s engagement in the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) discussions on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework since 2019.

On International Women’s Day we celebrate some of the women leading this network and leading in conservation, starting with Mariana Martinez Del Rio the Chair of the UCCLAN Council, a voluntary body who govern and guide this unique network to deliver its ambitious three-year strategy and become a global voice for conservation.

Mariana Martinez Del Rio (2020-2021), Chair of the UCCLAN Council


Since graduating from the Masters in 2021, Mariana has successfully co-developed a study to feed into the national plan of WWF Mexico, within its "Raices" initiative, identifying opportunity areas in public policy for the conservation and restoration of mangroves and associated ecosystems. Afterwards, she joined as an Associate Programme officer at UNEP WCMC in its Nature Economy team, adding her local and national expertise to the team towards delivering positive change for people and the planet.

Mariana is Chair of the UCCLAN Council, helping to lead the delivery of its 2021-2023 Strategy and strengthening its governance, during her tenure Mariana has been integral to the implementation of a new Policy Committee.

'Today, I feel thankful for being given the opportunity to be part of, and currently chair, the University of Cambridge Conservation Leadership Alumni Network. This experience has introduced me to an amazing amount of knowledge and a multicultural network of energetic conservationists acting towards collective and just transformational action for both nature and people. 

Within the network, I have found support and inspiration from amazing conservationist women who, on top of the current challenges that women face, especially in developing countries, have managed to speak up for conservation. I am deeply grateful for the previous fight from women that has allowed me to have the right to work in my field of passion, encouraged by current women that lead the movement and motivated to open the path for future generations of women to come.'


Luciana Leite (2013-14), recipient of the SCLA Fund 2021-22


Luciana is a conservation biologist and founder of Chalana Esperança, a women-led initiative who strive to educate local and traditional youth in the Brazilian Pantanal. In the SCLA Funds pilot year, Luciana received funding to expand this work.

Chalana Esperança was born out of a crisis. It emerged to gather and boost efforts to combat the fires that ravaged the Pantanal in 2020 and to minimise their effects on the animals and traditional communities that live there. The all-women collective acted on an emergency basis, providing safety equipment to the local volunteer teams battling the fires, providing provisions for affected wildlife and also for the local communities who were facing a huge humanitarian crisis. The SCLA Funding will help them continue to educate youth in the area to conserve and protect it for the future.

'Chalana Esperança is a women-founded and women-led conservation project, working to protect the largest tropical wetland on the planet: the Pantanal. The financial support from the SCLA Fund was among the first resources we ever received and it has allowed our organisation to carry on our educational work with local communities and youth, helping them to understand the ecological relevance of the Pantanal and how to mitigate the current threats to the biome. With the SCLA support we have also taken teachers from public schools and children to fall in love with the Pantanal, traveling by boat through this meandering paradise.

It is not easy being a women in conservation. We face multiple challenges that span from being in the field alone in remote areas to a culture that tend to value older, white men-led big international organisations. A lot of the times, the resources are also only available to countries within the Global North, ignoring that most of our threatened biodiversity is within the Global South. We have battled through more than a year without structural funding, before the SCLA Fund opportunity came up and our work was finally seen, acknowledged and recognised. By supporting our team, the UCCLAN has also given us visibility and credibility, contributing to the other grants we’ve secured in the past year. We thank the UCCLAN for supporting women working across the globe to protect our biodiversity and people.

I hope Chalana Esperança continues to receive the support we need to carry on our mission of dissemination knowledge, love and care for the Pantanal, and that our team continues to learn and grow together.'


Mercy Waithira (2021-2022), recipient of the SCLA Fund 2022-23

Mercy graduated in the summer of 2022 and has already successfully received a grant from the SCLA Fund to work with teachers and students in Laikipia central Kenya, to raise climate change awareness and undertake activities to protect their environment and livelihoods through a creatively designed board game.

Mercy is a Wildlife Ecologist, Conservation educator and an independent conservation researcher based in Kenya. She is a Co-director at The Laikipian, an Art for Conservation enterprise that is focused on conservation education and developing relevant content for conservation and climate change awareness.

'In hindsight, conservation for me has been a journey of appreciating an intricate relationship between people, wildlife, and their ever-changing environment. Whether in a classroom, in community meetings or in the field, I get to interact with real-time issues that impact livelihoods and survival of our wildlife. The Master’s Programme gave me the confidence to further engage with conservation issues in the different areas they pervade socially, politically, and economically and I hope to further contribute to better policies and strategies. I believe that the conservation practice could benefit further from an interdisciplinary approach with knowledge from different relevant fields and the real opportunity lies in collaboration and partnerships. 

 As a recipient of the SCLA fund, I am excited that my team and I will have an opportunity to work with different organizations that are optimistic about conservation education and its capacity to shift mindsets, enhance knowledge on climate change awareness and allow students to undertake activities that benefit their immediate environment.

I am encouraged by the increasing number of women in leadership positions in conservation. Our predecessors have been careful to provide mentorship and guidance by leading exemplary lives through advocacy that required bravery and challenging the status quo.'


Salisha Chandra (2019-2020), recipient of the SCLA Fund 2022-23

Born and raised in Kenya, Salisha has always been passionate about cultural and ecological conservation. She left her corporate career in late 2012 to delve into environmental work, focused on using her entrepreneurial mindset and experience to conserve wildlife. To date, Salisha has led the coordination of an Africa-wide strategy to protect vultures, been a part of a leadership team of an organisation at the forefront of lion conservation and co-founded a grassroots conservation movement in Kenya. Salisha recently joined Maliasili as Strategic Initiatives Coordinator.

Salisha received SCLA Funding in the 2022-23 round to work with donors to understand and enhance conservation impact.

'There is a dire need to elevate collaborative and growth mindsets in conservation, and women are at the forefront of this change. It almost comes naturally to most of us. The SCLA Fund will be critical for me and my team of amazing women to embed impact thinking that we believe will further catalyse this positive change. The Masters was a turning point for me personally, broadening my world view and understanding of what's possible when one elevates beyond private and personal projects to partnerships and collaborations that address both local and global challenges.'


Razan Nimir (2016-17), recipient of the SCLA Fund 2022-23

Razan is Co-founder and Executive Manager of Mutasim Nimir Centre for Environmental Culture, a youth-led volunteer centre established in 2018. She is also an Environmental Consultant supporting environmental and natural resources management operations for World Bank in Sudan and South Sudan. For the past eight years, she has worked on a variety of environmental issues including biodiversity conservation, climate change, community engagement, and environmental outreach. Razan is interested in analytical research and investigating approaches to strengthen community-based natural resources management.

Razan is Project Lead for the SCLA Fund project: Maximizing the conservation values of local ecological knowledge, which hopes to comprehensively document local ecological knowledge of the Dinder National Park’s communities and integrate this into conservation strategies in Sudan. This project is being delivered in collaboration with fellow alumni Carolina Soto Vargas (2016-17) from Colombia who is also Regional Coordinator for our Latin American group and a member of the GGRC SCLA Fund project from the 2021-22 round.

'The Masters was a great space to get to know inspiring women who have made tremendous achievements in conservation. Thanks to the SCLA Fund, we can now unleash our power and take impactful conservation actions.' 


Trang Nguyen (2013-14), Obama Leader 2023

Women from our alumni network are also making news, Trang Nguyen was recently chosen by the Obama Foundation to be the only leader from Vietnam participating in the Asia-Pacific Leadership Programme, a hugely competitive programme with more than 4000 people around the world nominated in 2023, and only 105 of them were selected by the Obama Foundation.

Trang has worked in conservation for 16 years and is the Founder and Executive Director of WildAct, a non-profit dedicated to inspiring, motivating, and empowering individuals to engage in science-based conservation of threatened species and ecosystems. Trang notably led WildAct to become the first organisation in Vietnam to implement a gender programme in the conservation sector that builds an equal and safe working environment for officers and employees from conservation organisations in Vietnam. She has also written a conservation-themed children’s book published in the 10 countries across the world.